But until recently, the singular status of Fox News as the cathode-ray embodiment of the political party in power had stirred relatively little mainstream debate. That has now changed, thanks to the extraordinary success and reverberating influence of a modest little documentary that began to be distributed over the internet a few weeks ago. The film, called Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism, is the work of a prominent left-wing Hollywood producer called Robert Greenwald, who put it together at high speed in weeks, under conditions of utmost secrecy to avoid pre- emptive legal action.
The film's underlying thesis, that Fox has broken with the journalistic ethic of fair political coverage and deliberately blurred facts with partisan opinion, seems, at first blush, so self-evident that one wonders why it needed to be spelt out over 77 minutes of screen time. But the evidence of recent weeks suggests it did need to be said, and the reaction is now palpable.
Released on DVD and distributed largely by the anti-Bush grassroots website MoveOn, Outfoxed sold 100,000 copies in its first two weeks, was shown at thousands of co-ordinated political house-parties across the country and shot to the top of Amazon.com's bestseller list. As of this weekend, it has found cinematic distribution, showing in four cinemas in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington. If it is successful there, it could break out more widely.